Diana Agrest is an internationally renowned architect well known for her unique and pioneering approach to architecture and urbanism. Her work has developed in both practice and theory. She has designed and built projects of a variety of types and scales: urban master plans, buildings, residences and interiors, and has received numerous awards.
Agrest is a full-time Professor at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. She has taught at Princeton University, Columbia University and Yale, and has been candidate for deanship at The Cooper Union and Pratt Institute. She was a fellow of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City from 1972 to 1984.
As part of a series on "50 Great Teachers," the April 21, 2015 broadcast on "All Things Considered" focused on Prof. Agrest's sometimes surprising methods for approaching the study of architecture. Listen to the full story here.
Agrest has been a pioneer in developing a critical approach to urban theory that articulates film and the city. She created and directed “Framing the City: Film, Video, Urban Architecture,” which was shown at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1993. She wrote, produced and directed the documentary "The Making of an Avant-Garde: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies 1967-1984" in 2013. For more information on "The Making of an Avant-Garde" visit www.agrest-the-making-of-an-avant-garde.com.
Since 1989 Agrest has worked both in practice and theory on the subject of nature, developing projects at various scales, from large cities to parks in China, the United States and Europe.
Her publications include:
The Sex of Architecture. Agrest, Conway, Weisman Eds., Abrams,1996
Agrest & Gandelsonas: Works. Princeton Architectural Press, 1995.
Architecture from Without: Theoretical Framings for a Critical Practice. MIT Press, 1991.
A Romance With the City: The Works of Irwin S Chanin. The Cooper Union with Rizzoli, 1984.
Work and Writings featured in Books and Encyclopedias, include:
Modern Architecture A-Z. Peter Gössel, Benedikt Taschen GmbH, 2007
New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism from the Bicentennial to the Millennium. Stern, Fishman, Tilove, The Monacelli Press, 2007
A Guide To Contemporary Architecture In America. Vol 2. Toto, Tokyo, 2006
Informal City. Kristin Freireiss, Prestel, 2005
Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Architecture. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003
Encyclopedie de l’Architecture du XX Siecle. Hazan, Paris, 2003
New York Architects. Allan Balfour, Willey and Son, 2002
1000 New York Buildings. Bill Harris, Jorg Brockmann, Judith Dupre, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002
AIA Guide to New York Architecture. current
Agrest has received grants from the Graham Foundation, NYSCA, and the Brunner Grant among others for her film: "The making of an Avant-garde: IAUS 1967-1984"©, now in post-production.
Her work has been exhibited in museums, galleries and universities throughout this country and abroad, including Schenzen Biennial; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Walker Art Center; The Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art; The Fogg Museum; Leo Castelli, New York; Center Pompidou, Paris; Minalo Triennale; the German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt.
Diana Agrest graduated with an architectural diploma from the University of Buenos Aires and completed her post graduate studies at the Center de Recherche d'Urbanisme, and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,Vi Section in Paris, France.
Projects & Links
RESIDENCE IN THE WEST HOLLYWOOD HILLS
House in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California, 2009
Complete renovation of a 940 sq ft 1951 house. Located on the West Hollywood Hills the house is located on the highest section of the property. The very private front faces East while the back faces West to an open landscape of hills that combine subtropical vegetation with a Mediterranean feeling and bathed in the afternoon light
The slanted windows that open to the patio continuous from the roof to the ground surface expand the view and creating continuity between indoor and outdoor. The windows expand the interior space in both a real and virtual way. The lower windows are operable in order to create a very effective cross ventilation with the high windows that face the street.
A new transitional entry space between street front and back patio defines the entrance to the house creating simultaneously a parking enclosure. These spaces were defined by a z configuration in plan with planes made of spaced California red wood slats creates a visual filter that provides privacy.
The retaining walls in the hillside garden and patio area were totally re built and reconfigured creating a lower patio framed by la landscape of local plants that and a ground treatment of railroad ties and ground cover provide complete privacy for an outdoor shower.
The house is organized in a fluid relationship between indoor and outdoor and as a sequence alternating between open, semi-enclosed and enclosed spaces from the street all the way to the lower part of the site.
JOHN AND MARRY PAPPAJOHN SCULPTURE PARK
Des Moines, 2009
The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a 300' by 900' in the center of Downtown Des Moines, was built for a major collection of contemporary sculptures donated to the DM Arts Center to be in permanent public view. In this particular project the design addresses the question of an Urban Place seen at different speeds, both by the driver as well as the pedestrian. The design of this Public Space is based around the scale, views and human interaction. Scale is provided by the creation of virtual "rooms", through topographic elements that create a partial visual enclosure where one has the possibility of focusing on a specific cluster of sculptures. The waves rise from the ground to a height of 8 feet at the highest point. Because of their parabolic shapes the waves allow for a variety of views while partially screening the "rooms" where the sculptures are displayed creating a variety of perspectives and visual experiences as the viewer-driver or pedestrian-moves.
Sustainability has been at the center of this project, through the use and treatment of water and use of local materials.
BREUKELEN COMMUNITY CENTER
Brooklyn, New York City, 2005
The program for a Community Center for the Breukelen Houses, built in 1951 in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, includes: sports, daycare, library, performance space, classrooms, food service, reception area, game room, computer center, etc. The goals of the project are as follows:
The Breukelen Community Center is composed of two main volumes enclosing programs connected by an atrium for informal gathering and circulation. The southern volume encloses the gym, and is transparent both to the atrium space and to the street. The northern volume is composed of a translucent curtain wall enclosure within which various freestanding rooms for administrative, classroom, eating and gathering functions are interconnected by a bridge-like circulation system on the second level. The space between these program volumes serves as a flexible place for undefined program activities that can occur in a more informal setting. The three exterior walls are made of aluminum-frame curtain wall with translucent glass to allow for light to enter while keeping a sense of privacy. The interior glass wall that opens to the atrium is made of transparent glass.
XUJIAHUI CITY MASTER PLAN AND INTERNATIONAL FILM CENTER
Xujiahui City Center and Surrounding Areas
Shanghai, PRC, 2004-05
Xujiahu, in the inner ring of Shanghai is made up of a patchwork of separate areas: the Sports City, the Decoration Center, Universities, Medical Centers, and Shopping further characterized by the lack of quality of urban spaces..
With the rapid development of the district in the last 10 years traffic has become a serious problem; congestion and overlap of conflicting traffic functions, are symptomatic. However, we consider that one of the major problems in Xujiahui is not traffic but the general lack in both the quantity and quality of pedestrian and public spaces.
Our project envisions Xujiahui as a green cultural district where museums, new public spaces, entertainment centers, cultural institutions, and hotels are organized as a network. Our Vision is based on the city’s tradition and past to guide the future. The various types of green will not only beautify the city and create pedestrian friendly spaces, but will also serve to bring sustainability to the city. Our project transforms the district into an International Urban Center, where the present centralized retail activities will be balanced and enriched by a cultural network of institutions and places
International Film Center
IFC located on the site of the historic Shanghai film studios will be one of the most important cultural centers in Shanghai. For many years Shanghai has been a major film center in China. International Film Center, will host major national and international events such as, film festivals In synthesis it will create a Forum for the development and exchange of work and ideas on Film. The concept for this project is to create a recognizable structure to be identified with International Film but also integrates with the rest of the area and creates a Civic Space, The formal concept is that like film, it is a continuous strip, that creates similarly to montage, different possible sequences of content
The Site for the project presents two Constraints: first, the zoning regulations require a 0.75 hectares green space on the site and the future construction of the R3 subway will run diagionally under the site.
The International Film Center complex includes : OFFICES THEATERS- FILM MUSEUM HOTEL PLAZA FILM STREET PARKING GREEN SPACE
Midtown Manhattan West
School Of Architecture, Princeton University / Agrest And Gandelsonas Architects
OUR PLAN IDENTIFIES FIVE AREAS OF INTERVENTION FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS AREA :
-Expansion Of The Transportation Infrastructure.
-Creation Of A Network Of Green Spaces.
a) a Network of Green Pedestrian spaces integrated to a New Mixed-use Urban Fabric fragmenting the very long blocks, b) extending to the area between 8th and 10th Avenues infiltrating the existing fabric .c) Green starting at the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel a New Park over the Roof of the New Convention Center.
-Development Of The Waterfront
Our project proposes the elimination of the piers and the creation of a Floating Park offering sports and entertainment activities..
-Restructuring Of The Urban Plan
The plan proposes to overlap a gradient that starts on the waterfront with residential and continuously displaced from the irongrid to end on a 200’x 200’ grid that coincides with the Irongrid. This varying gradient subdivides the long blocks creating a morphological variety incorporating green within the urban grid
-Relocation Of The Convention Center
In order to expand the development of the Waterfront we decided to propose the relocation of the Convention Center hanging over the railroad yards
Camino Ancho, Madrid, Spain, 2002
Single family residence for a couple and three children in Madrid, Spain. The 25,000 sq ft house is organized into two connected wings forming a ‘Z’ where the more public programs are located in a sequence that is articulated with a painting gallery and the cubical living room area.
On the upper floors the wings are divided in a parent's wing and a children's wing that works as one large loft space with movable individual cubicles inside.
In the front of the house a series of slanted walls organizes a promenade along a sculpture garden while in the back there is a pool-house with a double swimming pool, a square one for leisurely use and a glass cantileverd lap pool for swimming.
Melrose Community Center
Melrose Community Center
Bronx South at Melrose Houses, NYC, 2000
The design of the MCC reflects a desire to avoid a typical fortress-like solution and an ideology of fear, in an area considered dangerous, providing instead the community with a building that conveys a sense of transparency in every way.
Located in the Melrose Houses site, at the intersection of Morris Avenue and 156th Street in the South Bronx, the center serves the communities of the Jackson, Melrose, and Morrisania Houses, thus the diagonal orientation of the plan, relates to the Morrisania while the entry space, parallel to 156th Street opens the building to the Jackson Houses.
The gymnasium, with its elliptical configuration holds the otherwise very open corner while it presents a strong dynamic image when seen from the road. The Gym volume is connected to a bar-like building which contains the remainder of activities, administrative or educational, through a common entrance space; in this way the use is compartmentalized relative to scheduling and security.
Curtain wall glazing along the length of the bar exposes the interior to public view in both directions. Within the bar building, glass walls divide the classrooms from the double height transparent circulation area.
LAS CASAS, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay, 1998-2001
This project is located on a thirty acre farm close to the Atlantic Ocean in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. The existing farm's main residence consists of a group of houses built in the local tradition of brick bearing wall construction. The programs calls for a summer vacation residence and a horse farm. The Main Pavilion is an addition for the owners and the Guest House allows the use of the farm as a retreat for meetings as well as for friends.
Main House, Guest House
The approach was to create very simple structures that recalled some of the historic colonial ranches while being strong, modern, and playful at the same time.
A set of free-standing garden walls, were added in order to frame the otherwise scattered existing buildings, create a series of green courtyards. The houses are located on either side of a hill opening to vast country views. On the other side, they achieve a greater degree of privacy as they are framed by the new walls.
Since the local climate allows for a structure that is not totally enclosed, a large roof structure "floats"
THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED: NATURE, China Basin, San Francisco 1989
Inscription of Nature: The Machine in the Garden
The city as object of desire is transformed into the city as the place where the forces of desire are set free. The China Basin project, is, much like Donna Haraway's cyborg, "about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions and dangerous possibilities."29 This project is a provocation. It is, to paraphrase Haraway, a mapping of our urban, social, and ideological reality, committed to partiality, irony, and perversity; it is completely without innocence. 30 Nature had been absent from urban discourse at the time of this project for over 50 years. The project served as a unique opportunity to examine some of the pressing questions concerning the place, role, and form of nature in urban discourse at this moment in time.
The China Basin is a three hundred acre site sloping down from the Embarcadero Freeway toward San Francisco Bay. The scheme assumes the creation of a new natural urban datum plane related to that of the existing freeway, which in turn is rendered obsolete and eventually transformed into a residential structure. The China Basin Canal bounds the northwestern edge of the site and the San Francisco Bay lies to the east. An undulating blanket of nature covers the site and is punctuated by curvilinear public spaces varying in function and depth.
A smooth surface of nature replaces the striated fabric of the city, in the form of various street grids, which is buried under the site: a seamless continuity of activity flows under the smooth surface of nature, continuous flux without delimitation. This project addresses and encourages programs of active production rather than the frantic comsumption, that characterizes most urban developments
Zones of programmatic superimposition and interrelation radiating out of each "courtyard" are created, thus defining a public place. The boundaries determining various programs are left in suspense, undetermined, creating areas of programmatic instability, dissolving the barriers of institutionalized practice and reflecting the chance process typical of urban change over time. An intricate movement system of moving platforms, ramps, and stairs allows pedestrians to travel from one place to another ; more traditional communication routes are also present proposing the exploration and possibilities of using other geometries than Euclidean, which is at the core of the American City and XXth Century Urbanism.
1-Donna J. Harroway " A Cyborg Manifesto" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women, New York, Routledge, 1991,p 154
Des Moines Agricultural Corridor
Based on available site information the first proposal presents the concept of the farming corridor placing the greenhouses on the current unbuilt properties of either side of the railroad tracks alternating with groves of fruit trees.
Because of limited land availability on the west side, the greenhouses cannot be built between 2nd. Street and 5th. avenue, interrupting the agricultural corridor.
A pedestrian/bicycle trail as a green corridor along the railroad tracks as a main feature of the project, provides a visual link and reestablishes the visual continuity adding other activities to the greenhouse areas making the Agricultural corridor an attractor.
An added element in this proposal is the planting of fruit orchards wherever there is land available along the corridor which will reinforce the continuity of the corridor as well.
Proposal one was sent to the city for existing conditions and available land for development for verification. An annotated version of this plan was used to further develop the proposal including new development projects under consideration by the city, the need to preserve a number of properties for future development, and the possibility of a special treatment of the 10th. street view corridor with unique landmarks such as the Temple building and the First United Methodist Church.
Incorporating this information A&G proposed some changes namely, the footprint of the suggested developments in order to maximize the areas for the construction of greenhouses. The base plan was then modified based on A&G proposal for development areas.
With the confirmation that there are not available sites for development on the north side of the railroad tracks. A decision was made to locate the greenhouses on the south side and to try to end the farming corridor with two greenhouses facing each other on east 6th street and a special arrangement of orchards on east 7th street thus creating and ending on the Capitol grounds and as a potential link with the future Capitol Gateway.
Refiguring Walnut Street
Downtown Des Moines is structured in a linear sequence that starts at the intersection of Fleur Drive and Locust Street, moves along the Gateway Park and the CBD. After crossing the Des Moines River and moving along the east Village, downtown Des Moines visually ends at the Capitol. A similar sequence moving from east to west takes place on Grand Street starting on the East side and ending on the West side. In the last few years with the revitalization of the East Village and the creation of the Sculpture Park, pedestrian movement of local residents and visitors from the suburbs started to animate segments of the sequence. Despite this new motion in the downtown district, there is not yet a “people’s street” in Downtown Des Moines. The crowds that visit the farmer’s market on Court Avenue suggest that the city is ready for an active street that offers amenities bringing life to the Downtown area and extends the working hours with activities. Walnut Street has the potential to become a vital and memorable new type of twenty first century Main Street.
THE NEW WALNUT STREET
The goal of the Charrette is to propose a vision for Walnut Street that will transform it into the major attractor of the CBD. Since the CBD is a 9 to 5 business district, one of the challenges is to transform Walnut Street by creating activities that will promote it as a place that is alive 24/7. The incorporation and development of new programs will transform the present perception of this area and eliminate the stigma attached to it. Walnut Street could perform this role by being active on a permanent basis.
CURRENT CONDITION OF WALNUT STREET
The current condition in Walnut can be characterized as having a dumbbell condition, with activities in two poles: the area around 10th street and 4th street, and an empty space in between. Our primary goal is to reinforce this condition and to reestablish the continuity between the two poles, thereby activating the blocks in between. Finally we intend to use 10th and 4th street as hinges and as points of articulation for the surrounding context.
WALNUT STREET, A NEW ATMOSPHERE
The concept underlying our proposal is the creation of a New Atmosphere for Walnut Street. Such an Atmosphere requires the promotion of different activities and actions, and it results from overlapping different atmospheres: A Social Atmosphere; a Cultural Atmosphere; a Leisure Atmosphere; an Environmentally Pleasant Atmosphere and a Communications Atmosphere enhanced with free Wi-Fi
WALNUT STREET AS A PLACE OF COMMUNICATION
Walnut Street’s role should be reconceived to expand as a place for communication, conducive to both interpersonal face to face communication and virtual communication, linking individuals to news and media. This will attract younger generations and multiply the possibility for interaction. A new website for Walnut Street will serve as a nexus that connects Des Moines residents to the rest of the state, the US and the World and will become an important part of this concept.
WALNUT AS THE IDENTITY OF THE CBD
The CBD does not have a street that stands for its identity. Walnut Street has the potential to become such a street. There are a number of reasons why it is particularly conducive to serving as the vibrant spine of the CBD. The continuity of building facades has an urban feeling and offers a unique opportunity for activation while its small scale (as evidenced in its 4 traffic lanes) makes the environment more suited for pedestrian traffic. Our proposal for the activation of Walnut Street will lure the daytime population of Des Moines (about 80,000 people) to stay beyond normal business hours through the creation of a variety of activities and programs, ultimately changing the current situation where by night the population decreases to 8000. Our proposal is geared towards creating an urban environment that will attract a potential permanent residential population in downtown; the goal is to achieve a point where approximately 20,000 people are living in downtown Des Moines.
Create Centers connected with Universities and Colleges In the Area such as: Drake, University of Phoenix, University of Iowa, Graceland University, Northwestern College, Etc.
• Broadcasting News/ Radio And Television:
• Radio Station To The Street.
• Electronic Media,
• Film Center, Screenings, Symposiums, Film Festivals
• Musical Theater,
• Gateway Market On Walnut
• Pop-Up Shops/ Art/ Performance. Etc.
CONNECTION TO COURT AVENUE AND RIVERWALK
While the feedback from the previous meeting suggested that we should extend the dumbbell to the riverfront, we realize that without the activation of the river through program, it will be difficult to maintain density in this area.
While exploring this issue we came to the realization that there is an almost natural connection from 2nd Street and 3rd Street to Court Avenue, which functions in two different ways. During the weekend the axis of Walnut turns on 2nd street towards Court allowing a fluid relationship with the Riverfront to form while simultaneously connecting Walnut Street to the Farmers Market. During the week, a new loop is created, tying Walnut to Court through 3rd Street and 5th Street. This allows for different types of population and activities to interact, each one benefiting from the other.
REINFORCING EXISTING ELEMENTS
While the link between the Farmer’s Market and Walnut street is already established, we propose to incorporate existing landmarks, such as Silicon 6 and the Social Club, that are currently inaccessible to Walnut Street. By making these sites accessible through Walnut Street, we will be able to animate it with already existing attractive programs. Simultaneously, buildings with dead/empty spaces on the ground floor, such as the Yonkers Building and the Wells Fargo Building, will be activated through new activities, if possible, or visual effects, if not. The transformation will make these buildings more interesting at the ground level. We propose to open the ground level currently un-occupied space on the West block of Kaleidoscope to the street creating an active plaza.
We propose to have a light installation that runs the length of Walnut Street between 10th street and 4th Street, ending just before Nolan Plaza. We have talked with the well-known artist Leo Villareal, who has done a number of light installations in public spaces, to collaborate in this project.
The horizontal plane of the sidewalks is a major component of any street, and while Walnut sidewalks are not unpleasant, they have already acquired a negative connotation. If we are to create a New Walnut, a new treatment of sidewalks is essential. New materials and a more attractive play with materials is necessary in order to achieve this goal. There is consensus, about removing the bus stops as they will not serve any purpose once the buses are no longer there.
A canopy system is proposed in order to create a consistent environment (in terms of temperature and humidity) throughout the space. The canopy will generate an environment for the new pedestrian spaces that will encourage prolonged outdoor activity through heating systems. The Canopy will also serve as solar panels, generating enough energy to power the light installation that will be introduced in the street. Finally, there will be a sign at the Des Moines gateway that will announce the transformation to the street and encourage visitors to pass through.
Concerning Walnut street itself, we propose to reinforce the existing infrastructure through both physical and graphic intervention. Besides the signage system and iconography that will be developed for the skywalk system, we will propose another identifying element to make the entrance to skywalks more prominent in the landscape of Walnut Street. This will be done through colors (either in the lobby or on the door).
THE NEW WALNUT STREET AND THE CITY OF DES MOINES
Finally, the creation of a vibrant downtown will require the dedication and support of the city. To attract more people to develop businesses in the region and fill the buildings of Walnut Street with new business, the city will have to provide incentives to encourage greater risk and innovation. With the city’s support, retailers will be encouraged
to create or expand business along the new Walnut Street, ultimately transforming it into the major attractor of Des Moines’ CBD.